Sunday, March 29, 2009

Something Worth Waiting For

It's just after 9.20pm and after a walk in the balmy evening air by the sea in down at heel Panama City, I now have my beautiful little girl curled up in bed and too excited to sleep.

Excitement must be genetic because exhausted as I am, I doubt I'll get any sleep for watching little Emily tonight.

For everyone I have met who is still waiting for their chance at what I have this evening - keep going, it's worth everything.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Into the Storm

It is a balmy 70+ degrees here on the Gulf Coast but very murky and overcast due to the storm moving through.

I had to perform a double-take on the clock as my watch said 4pm but local clocks said 3 - we have crossed a timezone as well and gained an hour here in Panama City.

We're all set for 8pm local time and hopefully collecting Emily for some visitation at long last.  We have a stack of presents and stuff for her and now the long journey is finally over (it is a 14 hour road trip and 900 miles) I'm just looking forward to seeing that cheeky, smiling face I have dreamed of so many times.

There is no news from the other side that anything has changed though I understand my online stalker, Angela Jackson has been active in claiming I'm about to kidnap little Emily - but then again, anyone believing a word she has to say after the last couple of weeks of her atrocious behaviour would have to be clutching at straws, or just downright manipulative in trying to engineer a reason for visitation to now not occur - I'm thinking too much but then I've sat in this same hotel room on two previous occasions here in Panama City and never got to see my precious little girl.

Third time lucky and at least the storm has passed - we are forecast sunshine on Monday.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Last Post Before the Off

At last I have finalised information for seeing little Emily on Saturday - my fiance and I head down on Friday for the 14 hour, 900 mile one-way trip to Panama City.

My confidence in whether there will be any visitation is not high - the track record is bad - no visitation for three long years.

I have very little doubt that something will arise at the 11th hour but there is no point in hoping for the worst - I'll be in Panama City for my 8pm pick-up for Emily and fortunately, Patsy (my better half) will be with me.

For everyone who has emailed me saying "Good luck" and variations on that theme - THANKS :)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Judge John V Doyle - Volusia County Florida

It has come as something of a surprise to me the number of hits to this blog I am getting with people searching on Judge Doyle in Family Court, Volusia County down in Florida.

I've had a couple of parents come forward to share their negative experiences of Judge Doyle who has recently been removed from family court and is now dealing with people arguing over money and not children.

One wag pointed out that at least he couldn't do so much damage there.

My recent dealings with Left Behind Parents whose children have been abducted overseas has rubbed in the ire some feel, particularly with Judge Doyle's comment,

"We're provincials in this county, we don't do the Hague Convention."

That has certainly gone down like the proverbial lead balloon, however, criticism of Judge Doyle seems to be not limited to parents dealing with international child abduction as others, who have had His Honor deal with their purely domestic cases have been coming forward.

A serving US Navy officer recounts Judge Doyle stating in his case dealing with two children,

"I can go down to the County jail and pick two inmates at random who would make better parents than you two!"

Praise indeed for someone in the military defending the country while his ex-wife is arrested for domestic battery upon her current (or not so current partner), loses the home to foreclosure while receiving $2,000 a month in child support and has a problem with drug abuse.

I had a response to my complaint regarding Judge Doyle from the Judicial Qualifications Commission - they want the transcripts of Judge Doyle's comments during trial.  


Is it worth spending another $100 on this guy?

Given the current focus on the Hague Convention and compliance with it by the likes of Brazil (see the recent article published here by Tim Weinstein), I believe it certainly is.

Lack of compliance with the law by family court judges is rife and when the Hague Convention is involved and one country (Brazil) is being asked to step up to the plate and comply with its obligations it is fair and reasonable that the other country (the United States) should be doing the same thing also.

Tim Weinstein is busy preparing his second article on the Hague Convention and his experiences with Brazil which I'm looking forward to and gauging the reaction to that, quite a few of you reading this are as well.  Another father, Carlos Bermudez from North Carolina and whose son, Sage, was abducted to Mexico is also preparing a piece on the subject which we shall be publishing shortly.

At the same time, I have written on Robert Skelton, whose daughter Marissa Joy Kvistad was abducted from Volusia County FL to Spain and thence to Switzerland while Ariel Ayubo whose son, Lorenzo, has also been abducted to Brazil has also deserved mention - both of these parents reside in Volusia County and both are relying on the Hague Convention to get their children back home to the United States.

Irresponsible comments and poor standards of judicial behaviour such as that displayed by Judge Doyle regarding Emily Rose do little to help the cause of any parent with a child taken overseas nevermind the two fathers with children directly from his own jurisdiction.  

It is obvious His Honor Judge Doyle has a set of domestic detractors but after he commented in trial,

"At my age all you I look forward to is a good nights sleep and a decent bowel movement."

I can only hope His Honor has that "decent bowel movement" before too long - judicial constipation is one reason why these cases drag on for far too long.

Countdown to Emily - 3 days and 4 nights

I'm still waiting on the my ex's attorney to give me a full address for where I'm supposed to collect Emily on Saturday at midday in Panama City FL.

I had a long heart-to-heart with my better half this evening because I said I didn't care about whether her principal would give her paid or unpaid leave - if you're coming, you're coming and if you're not, you're not.

That didn't come out right and reads worse than when spoken but still, it didn't come out right.

Truth is, as the time comes nearer and closer my emotions and nerves become shot and the only way I have found to contain myself and exercise the self-control so vital in these situations is to become cold inside - nothing else matters but the immediacy of getting the other side to finally agree - to jump through the hoops they want you to jump through - to get to where you must be physically and most of all, deal with the crushing disappointment when Emily is not there or control all your feelings of overwhelming love and emotion because remember, she's just a 7 year old kid caught in this horrible mom-made situation.

3 long years of not seeing Emily - not knowing her - not being there for her.

A FaceBook friend made a simple comment - 3 days to go - he knows me too well though we have never met.  

A vicarious acquaintance nodding in the direction of my vicarious child.

Daddy loves you Emily Rose - nothing vicarious about that.

Time to pretend life is normal for just a short while longer.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Financial Cost of Child Abduction by Timothy Weinstein

Much is made of the emotional trauma for both parents and particularly the children involved; I have touched briefly on the financial cost myself from time-to-time, however, when I say the financial cost has been $450,000 and counting, disbelief has been a typical response.

The following is written by Timothy Weinstein, a father of two children abducted to Brazil and this is his take on the matter - I'd like to extend to Tim a personal thank you for having the backbone to write this for publishing and the piece may be used freely and reproduced with attribution - I trust this will not be the last time we hear from Tim.

The Financial Cost of Child Abduction

by Timothy Weinstein

Parental abduction in itself is a traumatic event for the left-behind parent. Brazil alone has over 50 cases of abduction from the United States representing over 70 children, my own two included. In addition to the emotional costs the left-behind parent must endure, one must understand the financial costs. 

Due to my personal experiences, this article will focus on Brazil. 

Consider the case of David Goldman; in the 4 ½ years since his son, Sean, was abducted, he has spent over $360,000 in legal and travel expenses. He is not alone and according to a December 27, 2008 article published in the Financial Post, “[Francois Larivee] has burned through $150,000, and still there is no end in sight.” 

Add to this list, Marty Pate who to date has spent over $135,000, Klaus Zensen who has spent $65,000, Alessandra Oliveira is at $30,000 and counting - and the list goes on and on. Yet not one of these parents has their child back home. 

From this, it appears rather obvious that the only people winning are the attorneys.

At least one parent, Gary Reilly, whose twin sons were abducted to Brazil in April, 2004, never petitioned for the return of his children due to the perceived cost of litigation. As told in a thread on, when he consulted an attorney, “He also told me that if I went to court, be prepared to pay a minimum of at least $100,000, before anything was decided.” A different attorney in Brazil, when asked what it would cost to present in court a Hague Convention case, quoted $30,000 plus another $20,000 if the case was won. When asked if the definition of winning meant that the child was returned, the answer was “No”. Winning simply meant that the first judge ordered the return of the child, not mentioning the likely rounds of appeals. 

How tragic it is that a lack of money rather than a lack of love could keep a parent from their child.

There are certain legal strategies of use to help alleviate the costs of expensive litigation related to a petition under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. One such strategy is to sue the abducting parent (and any accomplices) in the United States courts. If you're lucky enough, they may have assets you can retrieve. Related to this strategy, David Goldman reached a settlement with his child's grandparents for $150,000 - a lot of money until one considers that he has spent over twice that so far in litigation. Another father, Marty Pate, was awarded $65,000 in U.S. courts, an amount unfortunately, he'll likely never see.

This situation may have changed with the Shannon-v-Khalifa precedent who was awarded a massive $3 million jury award upheld on apeal last year, yet the sting in the tail is there are no US assets to make the judgment work; the children are gone and remain overseas with no contact with their father.

It doesn't have to be this way. 

According to Article 26 of the Hague Convention, 

“Central Authorities and other public services of Contracting States[think country] shall not impose any charges in relation to applications submitted under this Convention. In particular, they may not require any payment from the applicant towards the costs and expenses of the proceedings or, where applicable, those arising from the participation of legal counsel or advisers.” 

Although it allows a Contracting State to make a reservation when it accedes to the Convention, thus removing itself from this obligation, Brazil has not. 

Article 26 continues by stating, 

“Upon ordering the return of a child or issuing an order concerning rights of access under this Convention, the judicial or administrative authorities may, where appropriate, direct the person who removed or retained the child, or who prevented the exercise of rights of access, to pay necessary expenses incurred by or on behalf of the applicant, including travel expenses, any costs incurred or payments made for locating the child, the costs of legal representation of the applicant, and those of returning the child.”

What does all of this mean? 

First, a left-behind parent may request an attorney from the AGU[think attorney general] in Brazil. In this instance, the Brazilian government itself becomes the plaintiff and assumes the legal fees. I, along with others, have used this arrangement, leaving precious financial resources available for travel and other expenses rather than legal fees. There are both advantages and disadvantages to this arrangement, but I'll leave that to another discussion. 

Second, it allows the left-behind parent to sue in Brazil for all costs they incurred in the fight to have their child returned to his or her habitual residence. This however is predicated on the Brazilian court system first ordering the return of an abducted child, something they have done only once so far to the United States.

Where does this leave us? 

Back to the first sentence of this article. While international child abduction is an inexcusable tragedy with a huge emotional bill, averting the financial cost is possible, however, it is highly problematical and there is no help with a large part of the overall costs which are not legal related - travel, accomodation and simple living expenses - and this assumes you know where your child is to start the process in the first instance.

©Timothy Weinstein 2009 – Fair use and reproduction is permitted with attribution

If you wish to contact Tim please drop me an email.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hague Convention Compliance - Brazil in the Spotlight but Where Will It Lead?

One of the major issues falling out of the numerous international child abduction cases washing around the global media is the non-compliance with the Hague Convention treaty which governs the process surrounding children subject to removal to foreign countries from their habitual state of residence.

Sean Goldman retained in Brazil

A key current case is that of Sean Goldman, wrongly removed from the United States to Brazil and now, after the unfortunate demise of his mother, Bruna Bianchi, is continuing to be retained in Brazil by his step-father, Jaoa Lins e Silva - a prominent Hague Convention lawyer himself (and who ought to know better).

 The international media attention that is currently focused on Sean Goldman and his American father, David has been immense and the ripples it is creating have travelled far beyond one isolated case as the Bring Sean Home campaign has touched on dozens of other cases of children being retained in Brazil.

To the credit of the Bring Sean Home camp, they at least have refrained from descending into the xenophobic hysteria that frequently accompanies these cases and instead, have sought to focus on increasing diplomatic, legal and public opinion pressure on the Brazilian authorities.  The focus is on the non-compliance with the Hague Convention treaty by Brazil which is a very fair comment - Brazil has an appalling record not only with regards to the US but elsewhere as well.

Brazilian Non-Compliance towards the United Kingdom: Rebecca Boyle

Last year, Professor Martin Boyle was imprisoned in a Sao Paulo when his daughter, Rebecca was abducted there from the UK.  Upon arriving in Brazil determined to be reunited with his daughter he was thrown in jail for allegedly owing $7000 in child support and when that was then paid the Brazilian authorities then demanded a further $30,000.

Boyle returned to the UK minus his child and hasn't been able to see her since and no amount of Hague Convention quoting has done anything noteworthy.

Why is Brazil Non-Compliant?

What makes a country such as Brazil non-compliant?  

Brazil is not exactly a backwater - the world's ninth largest economy and a close trading partner with the US as well as many cultural links as well as being a staunchly Catholic country - Brazil is not exactly Somalia or Afghanistan in outlook or approach.

The cultural divide can still be huge - there is a fantastically immense gap between the have's and the have not's in Brazil and poverty is rife.  The BBC reported back in 2006 on the "kidnap culture" finding root in Brazil with high profile personalities being affected such as Grafite, a soccer player who's mother was a target.  Businessmen commute by helicopter while millions live on the threshold of starvation.

There is also the arrogance and hubris of those with too much money - Jaoa Lins e Silva is a wealthy man and from a wealthy background and is indubitably one of Brazil's elite few.  As a leading Hague Convention lawyer he is only too aware of the wrongful nature of his actions in retaining Sean Goldman which makes Brazilian non-compliance even more egregious - there is no excuse and the conduct is further stripped bare as simple, naked contempt for international law.

The saying is power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and in this instance it is highly applicable but have the abductors gone too far this time?

It is one thing to be a big fish in small pond but even big fish get eaten in the ocean while the United States steps up the pressure on Brazil to return Sean Goldman home to his father in America.

Parents of Other Children Abducted to Brazil Look for Hope of Change

Parents such as Timothy Weinstein, another US parent with two children in Brazil and Canadian, Francois Larivee wih a five year old son abducted from Quebec to Brazil also, can only watch the Sean Goldman case unfold along with dozens of other parents with children in the same non-compliant country with hope.

Ariel Ayubo is a quiet, reserved man from Edgewater, Florida who travelled to Washington DC to support David and Sean Goldman a week ago - his son, Lorenzo was abducted to Brazil last year in defiance of Floridian and US law.  His son in Brazil, Ariel has so far seen no progress on recovering or seeing his child in Brazil and this quiet, patient and loving father made the thousand mile roadtrip to DC to let his voice be heard - once he had spoken, he quietly left to drive overnight back to Florida and of all the people I met that day, he left the greatest impression upon me.

The pain Ayubo is handling with quiet dignity belies the emotional trauma these parents are suffering, and suffering quite needlessly at that.  The cases of dozens and hundreds of other parents with children caught up in this international web demand the same efforts at resolution as Sean Goldman's case, but as Maureen Dabbagh, the head of Parent International and whose own daughter Nadia was abducted 15 years ago has said, "We can only try to bring them home one at a time."

For parents such as Carlos Bermudez, site owner of Hague Abductions whose son Sage has been abducted to Mexico notes, "It is not just the Brazilians!  When you look at the numbers of children abducted to Mexico it almost dwarves the numbers of children taken to every other Hague country."

Perhaps this is what the Sean Goldman case has done - catapulted the entire issue of international child abduction into the eye of the public, and as is usual with such issues, as one set of injustices is uncovered, more follow but that is a post for another day.

Visitation - Finally?

Well the recent legal shennigins seem to have had some impact - I have been offered visitation for Spring Break which for Panama City will be next week.

I'm waiting on the final details to come through which seems to be focusing on getting a precise address for where the visitation handover is to take place - it's been almost 3 years!

As with everything else, it may be third time lucky -this will be the third trip to PC to see Emily and I'm trying not to get my hopes up as my other half says, 

"I know you'll be getting to drive to Panama City at least!" 

Talking with my son, Max, yesterday as we played the online computer games he's so into, the conversation went something like,

"Come on Dad  - you're slow - shoot him!  Do you think you'll get to see Emily?"

"Don't know son - we just have to try."

"You'll need to try harder than this Dad - you're useless!"

See - there's also a silver lining in every cloud as luckily for me, getting to see Emily is not a computer game requiring the mental and manual dexterity of a 12 year old - but I bet a 12 year old could straighten this mess out better than the adults involved so far.

Take a deep breath and now the waiting and build-up are going to start which I personally find murderous on the nerves - will I or will I not finally get to see my beautiful little girl?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Emily: "I went to dinner with my Daddy!"

After the weekend in Washington DC and the rally for Sean and David Goldman it has been back to earth with a bump.

Relaxing Sunday evening, the telephone rang and Emily's beautifully, indignant voice - "It's me!"

We spoke and it was fantastic listening to her tell me about her day and going to church with her "grandma" and I thought immediately, "Your grandma lives in Wisconsin?" and then an icy hand reached up through my balls to my heart as Emily told me:

"I went to church dinner with my Daddy!"

I spoke with Sheila afterwards and asked her what was going on with Emily calling someone else Daddy - all I got was, "I have every right to have a boyfriend." as if that answered or justified doing this with Emily.

The boyfriend may be a nice guy (I hope he is) but Emily Rose has a father and it isn't him - 

I am Emily's DADDY!!!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bring Sean Home Rally - Washington DC

A dreary rainy day which reminded me of English weather so very much but also a heart warming day too.

I met up in DC with about hundred, maybe two hundred supporters and family members of Sean Goldman as President Obama and President Lula of Brazil met in the White House - it is easy to see why this team has made such an impression on the so far unimpressionable media and political influencers when international child abduction raises its nasty head.

They are organised, motivated and deeply committed - David is fortunate to have such an outstanding network and Sean is very fortunate to have such a father prepared to go through this nerve shattering torture.

The spirit was undampened and I was not the only other parent to have made the journey as I met several parents, mostly fathers, with children abducted overseas and many of them to Brazil.  It came as a continued surprise for many people as they came to understand that this is not simply a "problem" with Brazil and the US but the problems extend much wider around the globe.

I chatted briefly with Congressman Chris Smith who has been instrumental in the political aspects of this campaign and when I explained Emily had been taken from the UK to the US his first question was what had my experience been with the US authorities.

I told him - appalling.

Very tellingly he was not surprised.

His chief of staff all but snatched the folder of paperwork I had brought with me to look at what had been going on  - even better, I understand there will finally be Congressional hearings on the whole shooting match.

How does this leave Sean and his father, David Goldman is uncertain but I get the distinct feeling that some impetus is being added to the whole issue and the press certainly were there in force too - if any court is going to decide sean's fate it is most likely going to be the court of public opinion in Brazil and the United States.

I'll publish some of the photographs when I can get my digital camera to behave but for more information on the sean Goldman case visit and even better, sign up and help with your voice and petition votes.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sean Goldman Abducted to Brazil - Rally in Washington DC

In 2004, Sean Goldman was abducted to Brazil from the United States by his mother, Bruna Bianchi Goldman leaving behind David Goldman, a boat skipper, model and one of those most stubborn creatures - a loving parent not prepared to take this lying down.

David Goldman has since fought for the return of Sean, for many years alone and navigating a Brazilian legal system not noted for its quality.  

Throughout, his access to Sean was blocked by Bruna until a turn of events brought even greater injustice for Sean and David Goldman.

Bruna married an attorney in Brazil, Joao Paolo lin Silva - after Bruna had unlawfully received a Brazilian custody order for Sean - this case was one of many on the way to being brushed under the international diplomatic carpet until Bruna tragically died in 2008 in childbirth.

At this point, some sense of lawful reason ought to have prevailed and Sean, who already should have been returned to the US by Brazil if the Hague Convention had been observed, was retained still further as his step-father, lin Silva now claimed Sean as his son leaving David Goldman, the real father out in the cold.

A group of friends and supporters found out of the situation and launched a campaign to bring Sean home to the United States and reunite him with David. A campaign that has reached mainstream media and national attention in the United States and which will culminate in a rally this Saturday at 2pm outside the White House as President Obama meets with President Lula of Brazil.

Sean Goldman is not going to be getting on a plane home that day, however, President Lula cannot be left in any doubt that Brazil has behaved atrociously in this matter and for 5 years where has the much vaunted Office of Childrens Issues at the State Department been?

This is a case which on a personal level angers me deeply - Brazil knows better.

Sean and David Goldman's case also causes me a degree of consternation with respect to Emily - the plight of the Goldman's is causing heads to turn and long overdue attention but where is the same level of outrage as Emily was removed from the UK by the US Embassy, hidden in the US by the same people tasked with resolving Sean's abduction, left to go blind, given to a pedophile in the adoption effort in Wisconsin or when I was jailed at the request of Barbara Greig at the State Department?  

Whatever my feelings of disgust with the US Department of State, I'll be there on Saturday at the White House to give my support to Sean and David Goldman - the individuals, and especially the children who get caught up in this mess need all the help they can get from wherever they can get it.

If you are in Washington DC or can get there the meet-up is Lafayette Park opposite the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue - a platform will be set up and the rally starts at 2pm.

See you there.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Long Awaited Phone Call

I was sitting watching something on television when the phone rang yesterday evening - a little voice said, "It's me!" and for the first time since trial last year in May, Emily and I were able to talk to each other.

Emily turned 7 last weekend, though we didn't get to talk then, and we had a lot to talk about with her birthday presents and what she got and how she loves books and is good at art at school.  Just letting her talk so you can hear that beautiful little voice of hers but my hearing is going and I strained to pick out her words through her accent.

I'm not going to let the legal BS that is going on cloud a few wonderful moments with Emily, albeit on the telephone; I finally got to speak with my beautiful daughter and I am all the more determined I am going to get to see her soon.

Her mom still will not pick up the telephone and talk to me though.

No matter, I spoke with Emily and she is the one I care about.